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A Sea of Change For Boaters

A Sea of Change For Boaters

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We are living in the golden age of boating. More people are boating and fishing (especially along the Gulf Coast) than ever. A big part of the continued growth of people enjoying time on the water is the reliability of today’s boats, motors, and electronics. Boats are just nicer today, with more amenities for everyone onboard. They are also bigger, faster, and safer.

The ongoing technological advancements of four-stroke outboard motors make them seem almost bulletproof compared to those of the non-cranking, blue smoke, and profanity producing two-strokes of years past.

Boats are also easier to operate than they were in the past. The mapping software standard on chart plotters allows us to cruise around in rivers, bays, and backwaters while easily following navigational aids on a screen without relying on paper charts.

When GPS technology was made available to the public, replacing LORAN as the primary offshore navigation tool, it opened a whole new world to those who loved to fish. The accuracy and simplicity of using GPS is undoubtedly one of the biggest game-changers the boating industry has delivered in most of our lifetimes. Whether you are looking for a snapper spot twelve miles from the beach, or an oil platform one hundred miles out in the Gulf, GPS provides boaters with the ability and confidence to get to their desired location and then back home safely.

Most transformational boating systems start on big boats, be it commercial vessels or yachts, and eventually make their way down to recreational boats. The products are perfected, and economy of scale makes them available and affordable to ‘everyday’ boat owners.

We are seeing right now as more and more boats are being equipped with gyroscopic stabilizers, which eliminate the side-to-side roll of a boat. If you’ve ever been just a little queasy or had a full-on case of being seasick, you know all too well just how awful that motion can make you feel.

Seakeeper is far and away the most dominant name, really synonymous with the product when it comes to transforming the comfort level of everyone on a boat by eliminating up to 95% of the roll. The units house a gyroscope with a flywheel that spins at speeds up to 557 miles per hour, generating enough centrifugal force to stop a boat from rolling by counteracting the opposing forces of wind and waves.

“It is one of those generational advancements in our industry that changed the world of sportfishing,” said John Fitzgerald of Saunders Yachtworks and Saunders Marine Center in Coastal Alabama whose company has been doing installs for nearly a decade.

“It started with retrofits, installing them on big boats our customers already owned. Now they are standard on almost every new sportfishing yacht,” said Fitzgerald. “But now I think the most exciting aspect of this technology is the installs we are doing on center consoles from twenty-three feet on up.”

Our Gulf, most days, resembles more a washing machine type mix of current and waves as opposed to the large, slow-moving swells of the Atlantic Ocean. That’s why fishing in eight-foot seas in other parts of the world is doable, while a day with solid three-foot seas here can be downright miserable.

Think about sitting over a snapper spot in a twenty-eight-foot center console with a 10-knot wind with a bit of chop on the water. The boat is rocking just enough to have things sliding around, it’s not unsafe, but it’s not nearly as enjoyable as a day when it’s slick calm and the boat isn’t sloshing you and your breakfast around, right? That side-to-side movement is eliminated with stabilization.

I’m fortunate to regularly fish on a 63′ sportfisher with a Seakeeper, and I fished on it before it was installed as well. I’m struggling to convey just how different the days and nights are now when that big boat isn’t rocking and rolling. If I said I can’t even remember the last time white wine splashed out of my glass on that boat, would that help to paint the picture or just sound pretentious? Or Both?

Just a few years back, the thought of these being installed on ‘little boats’ was hard to imagine from a physical size standpoint and the price point. But like so many marine inventions, Seakeeper has found a way to scale its product to be effective and affordable for today’s center console owner. Many new center consoles come equipped with a Seakeeper installed, while others choose to have them installed on their current boat.

“It doesn’t matter what size boat you have; you want to be as comfortable as possible,” said Fitzgerald. “We see more and more center console owners choosing to install a Seakeeper, which leads to more use and enjoyment from their boat.”

The Seakeeper model for center consoles from 23-30 feet boats retails for around $15,900 (plus installation), which is certainly a significant investment for most of us boaters. But then again, if you have ever been seasick, think back to that very moment; how much would you have been willing to chip in to stop the roll right then?

by Jim Cox

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